3 Herbs for Eating Disorders

Our relationship with food is perhaps the most fundamental necessity. It provides us with health, security, and even pleasure. In our consumer culture, we have many conflicting ideas about food, health and body image. Our society promotes ideas of unhealthy and unattainable beauty. We market food items as an experience. Sometimes we even sexualize our food commercials. Food addictions and food aversions (both of which are the basis of eating disorders) have a shared nature: it’s about the anxiety to fulfill our fantasies.

I’ve had my own experiences with eating disorders when I was younger and it’s not as straightforward as people think it is. Initially I felt as though my eating habits were harmless enough, it seemed to begin harmless enough. I made a lot of excuses for why I behaved the way I did, which seemed reasonable at the time. But eventually I found myself in a consistent binge and starve cycle, driven by the fear that I wasn’t lovable. It took me an awfully long time to admit to myself what I was doing. But eventually I realized that my behavior was not healthy. My problem is that I love food. I love food so much. Yet, there were times when I felt like food was my enemy.

It always happened in cycles. In the beginning, I felt healthy, happy and carefree. And then I would eat sweets. And it was so hard to stop. I would eat and eat, and I wouldn’t keep track of how much I had eaten. ‘Just one more’ was my national anthem. And soon after I would naturally feel ill. I’d spend the following days wondering why I did this to myself; I knew better. I would indulge in the guilt I felt. I would belittle myself, calling myself ‘fat’ and a ‘pig’ (disregarding the fact that I’ve never exceeded 120 lbs). These were some of the tamest names. And as ridiculous as it is, a part of me thought that – if I had more chocolate – then maybe I’d feel better. Every time, I’d feel sick to my stomach from eating too many sweets. I’d spend the following days only eating what I could palate, mostly dry toast, steamed greens and water. At this point in the cycle, I’d feel like food was my enemy, and by overcoming the temptation to binge then I would have gained some sort of self-mastery. I actually convinced myself that my strict starvation was being valiantly disciplined. I’d eat my small portion of bitter, lifeless spinach and tell myself “this is for your own good” until – days later – I wouldn’t feel so nauseated anymore. And thus the cycle would repeat itself, with the same anxiety-driven, binge-eating, self-loathing, food-denying conclusion.

The root of my eating habits stem back to events in my early childhood. I know this now after years of reflecting, but just because you have awareness of the root issue doesn’t mean the problem immediately corrects itself. It takes a lot to feel comfortable in your own skin. Our health begins in the mind. By promoting healthy thoughts and developing healthy habits, we create a lifestyle that is built on a healthy foundation

Herbal remedies will not do all the work for you, but they can yield incredible results when you make a commitment to your own well-being. Here are a few loving herbs that will help to stave off eating disorders.

Blessed Thistle

 

1. Blessed Thistle

Blessed Thistle, also known as Holy Ghost herb or Holy Thistle, began as an Ayurvedic herb and is a great remedy to increase appetite while having a calming effect. It comes from the same family as dandelions, daisies and chamomile. Like many other herbs, Blessed Thistle has a wide variety of uses which makes it a beneficial medicine to keep on hand. Not only does it stimulate digestion, but it is also a useful herb when you have a cough, a cold or a fever. It’s a diuretic which promotes milk production for new mothers and it could be a gentle and beneficial tea after a period of binging. Just remember to continue to hydrate when taking diuretics. Drink lots of water!

Blessed Thistle can be taken via capsule or cooked, but I prefer to brew it into a tea. I tend to add either some mint or you could add some rose petals, which brings me to the second herb…

Rose2. Rose

Roses are amazing flowers! There are over 100 species of roses which smell divine and fruit into vitamin-C rich rosehips. When brewed into a tea, this rosewater eases digestion and makes a cleansing facial toner. Roses are wonderful as aromatherapy. Rose petals can be added to your bath. Rose essential oil can be diluted in a carrier oil and applied to the skin or it can be added to an oil diffuser. The scent is useful for easing anxiety, guilt and grief, as well as creating a peaceful environment.

Rosewater is effective for anorexia and bulimia nervosa, as well as binge-eating. It will support self-love, self-care and help to alleviate the guilt and anxiety that are associated with eating disorders. It is a soothing brew to aid a number of digestion issues. Rosewater can be found at many major grocers. It can also be made from easily scratch. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Once the water has boiled, pour the water over 3 handfuls of rose petals. If you want to get traditional, the folk method is to choose red rose petals, but above all make sure that your roses are pesticide-free.
Bud

3. Cannabis

Cannabis is an exceptional herb for stimulating the appetite. Cannabis is a flower which has a psychoactive effect, hence its current role as a schedule I substance in most of the United States. I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful state of Oregon, where it has been legalized for recreational use to those who are 21 and older. Despite its bad reputation, cannabis is a gentle herb that can be smoked, decarboxylated and infused into a fat (like butter or coconut oil for a vegan alternative), or if you prefer to avoid the psychoactive effects then it can be made into a tea. Although I will tell you from personal experience that its appetite-stimulating property is much more potent when the THC in the flower is activated (this is the basis for decarboxylation). If you choose to take it as a tea then might I recommend adding some mint. Mint will help ease digestion and calm the nervous system while the cannabis stimulates the appetite.

Further advice on combating eating disorders….

The healthiest choice you can make is to learn how to love yourself just as you are. This is way easier said than done.

Nothing will ever be truly perfect. This is a frustrating reality, but it is also a liberating reality. In acknowledging that nothing is ever perfect, we admit that we’re all in the process of bettering ourselves. We are all works in progress. Starving or binging or purging is really a desire for fulfillment, whether that be attaining the “perfect body”, experiencing the warmth and security of a full stomach, or attempting to fill the emptiness we feel inside . These disorders arise from a fear that we will never get what we want, that we are not good enough, that we don’t deserve to be happy or healthy. And all of these fears and worries and anxieties rip us away from the pleasure of the present moment.

Now that you are seeking a healthier means of living, I encourage you to take a minute and be grateful for how much good your body does on a daily basis. Thank it for all the times your wounds have healed, all the illnesses your body has overcome, all the traumas your body has endured. It is beautiful. It is here to support you. And your body loves you.

Gather Ye Rosehips While Ye May

Rose Hips
Foraged wild rosehips from the Pacific NW

Allow me to be straightforward. This post contains a little bit of everything herbs, social issues, poetry. One defining feature is that I can’t make up my mind, but nevertheless I would like to impart some vital musings onto you. Let me start with a famous poem, which both frustrates and inspires.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick, 1591-1674

I’m going to be honest: I hate this poem. I will not argue that it has good form, but the implications are grim and – frankly – laughable. “That age is best which is the first, / When youth and blood are warmer; / But being spent, the worse, and worst / Times still succeed the former.” Oh please, Robert Herrick, tell me again how priceless virgins are. I mean, this isn’t Goblin’s Market, but subtlety isn’t Herrick’s strong suit. This poem repeats itself in my head as I gather nutrient-rich rosehips for my winter tea, contemplating the dying of another year. My mind races with the stories of women being sexually assaulted and I ponder how desperately our society worships youth and then exploits its innocence. Many women, myself included, are all reminded of our own personal experiences of being rendered used and then (supposedly) useless. And the representation of women throughout literature, and much of recorded history, has frequently left me unsatisfied.

Rose Seeds
Wild rose seeds harvested from rosehips

Women have often been associated with fruiting and flowering. Shakespeare even related his “deflowered” female characters to moldy oranges. Yes, it’s undeniable that women have a biological clock and we have our own seasons in life, but why is it that women are valued so radically different at varying stages of life? May I suggest that when we put so much value on the flower and the fruit, we forget the tree that bore them.

What truly pains me is the dismissal of the value of experience. Women (and men for that matter) have gained so much wisdom by the time of their golden years, and our society is quick to excuse and devalue them. It isn’t any secret that times have changed and not all wisdom is timeless, but assigning value only to that which can re-produce is doing our community a great disservice. Where did our wisdom go? And why does it seem that so many young adults are unprepared for the challenges which present themselves today? Many millennials struggle to adequately feed themselves, defend themselves, and heal themselves. Valuable traditions are quietly being forgotten. Meanwhile, nature carries on: flowering, fruiting and passing on its wisdom. And there’s so much to learn from nature!

Take rosehips for example. There are over 100 species of roses, all of which bear rosehips: one of the most vitamin-C rich foods. Roses are sweetly smelling and easy to harvest, gather seeds from and plant for yourself. When in bloom you can make rosewater to use as a facial toner, drink as a tea to promote healthy digestion, or help to ease anxiety (both as a tea and as aromatherapy). Find wild roses and their health benefits are yours for the taking.

To wrap up this rosy rant, I encourage you to be mindful of the resources that surround us. There is so much wisdom, in plants, in places, and – especially – in people. Don’t take your environment for granted. Learn from it, nurture it and celebrate it, both “when youth and blood are warmer” and during its dying days, only to be reborn in the coming seasons.